Alto Adige: Embracing its Past

Coordinates: 46°30′00″N 11°20′00"

When my husband organizes our holidays, I do not interfere so I can be surprised.  On this occasion, I knew we were going to a beautiful mountainous region in Italy, close to the Swiss and Austrian borders, known as Südtirol (to German speakers) or Alto Adige (to Italian speakers). I was aware that in this region they spoke two languages, but in my mind: I was going to Italy! And although I did drink good wines; to tell you the truth, the food and the cultural undertones we appreciated were not very Italian.

A view of the Adige River, known as Etsch in German. Photo: Bruny Nieves

A view of the Adige River, known as Etsch in German. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Austria, Italy and Germany

A political past tied to Austria, Italy and Germany colors the whole region; it even has a different name in each language. Tirol is the name of an Austrian region; Südtirol, describes this piece of land lies at the south of the Tirol. Adige is the name of a river born here; Alto Adige states this land is at the higher part of this river. I am not a history lover, but only by knowing what transpired in this region, you are able to understand its contrasts.

Important information is translated in two languages; therefore my knowledge of German proved useful. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Important information is translated in two languages; therefore my knowledge of German proved useful. Photo: Bruny Nieves

A brief history

Therefore, I sum it up in a few sentences. The region was a part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire until the end of 1919; after World War I, it was allocated to Italy. During this period, they tried assimilating its inhabitants, prohibiting the language and traditions of Austrian origin. Meanwhile during World War II, they tried to segregate the population, among those who felt German (who were invited to return to Germany or Austria) and those who wanted to remain as Italians.

At the end of this war, it was agreed the German speaking population would remain in Italy and its rights respected. And although separatist forces existed that wanted the reunification with Austria, in 1972, after years of negotiations, the region’s political and cultural autonomy was recognized. Today 70 % speaks German and approximately 27 % Italian, both official languages. Now, the history class is finished!

This straw wreath, handmade by our Agriturismo’s hostess, is used during the Erntedankfest dances; a festival of German origin, at the end of October, that celebrates a successful harvest. Photo: Bruny Nieves

This straw wreath, handmade by our Agriturismo’s hostess, is used during the Erntedankfest dances; a festival of German origin, at the end of October, that celebrates a successful harvest. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Agriturismo and gastronomy

We stayed at an Agriturismo, where we were able to speak with our hosts and understand their perspective over this historical background. They belong to the German speakers and celebrate Austrian traditions and dishes; but they feel Italian. During our day trips, we saw evidence of this shared history. I hope that my photos help me share with you, a trip that was not what I expected (remember, I thought I was going to Italy), but that absolutely, managed to surprise me.

One of the 27,000 Stolpersteine placed around the eight European cities touched by the Holocaust. The name means ‘stones over which you stumble’ and this was literally what happened to us. While walking, we noticed the stone’s golden color, stopped to appreciate it and then, we asked about its origin: this nameplate commemorates the victims and is placed in front of what used to be their residence. Photo: Bruny Nieves

One of the 27,000 Stolpersteine placed around the eight European cities touched by the Holocaust. The name means ‘stones over which you stumble’ and this was literally what happened to us. While walking, we noticed the stone’s golden color, stopped to appreciate it and then, we asked about its origin: this nameplate commemorates the victims and is placed in front of what used to be their residence. Photo: Bruny Nieves


The frequent visits by Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, turned the city of Merano into a fashionable place for the XIXth century’s bourgeoisie. The Sisi footpath is a scenic way to tour the city; it includes the Bavaria Hotel and the Trauttmansdorff Castle, where often the Empress spent the night. Although there are signs marking the way, I recommend you study a map beforehand since it can be confusing. It was for us! Photo: Bruny Nieves

The frequent visits by Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, turned the city of Merano into a fashionable place for the XIXth century’s bourgeoisie. The Sisi footpath is a scenic way to tour the city; it includes the Bavaria Hotel and the Trauttmansdorff Castle, where often the Empress spent the night. Although there are signs marking the way, I recommend you study a map beforehand since it can be confusing. It was for us! Photo: Bruny Nieves


The Trauttmansdorff Castle houses an interesting museum on how tourism developed in the region and a colorful and extensive botanical garden. We loved that it had interactive areas for children while being a paradise for flora lovers. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The Trauttmansdorff Castle houses an interesting museum on how tourism developed in the region and a colorful and extensive botanical garden. We loved that it had interactive areas for children while being a paradise for flora lovers. Photo: Bruny Nieves


This chair is an artistic representation of an old utensil for roasting chestnuts. We found it at the main square in Naturno. Photo: Marco Dettling

This chair is an artistic representation of an old utensil for roasting chestnuts. We found it at the main square in Naturno. Photo: Marco Dettling


The regional newspaper is in Italian, although during our visit I only found one person who did not understand German. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The regional newspaper is in Italian, although during our visit I only found one person who did not understand German. Photo: Bruny Nieves


The most ancient frescoes in German speaking Europe can be found at the small Saint Prokulus Church in Naturno. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The most ancient frescoes in German speaking Europe can be found at the small Saint Prokulus Church in Naturno. Photo: Bruny Nieves


The special micro-climate at the Venosta Valley provides 300 sunny days a year and allows its apples to mature slowly, making them juicier. It is impressive to see the amount of trees and farms extended over the whole valley; we nicknamed it the apples’ valley. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The special micro-climate at the Venosta Valley provides 300 sunny days a year and allows its apples to mature slowly, making them juicier. It is impressive to see the amount of trees and farms extended over the whole valley; we nicknamed it the apples’ valley. Photo: Bruny Nieves


The Saint Catherine bell tower belonged to Curón, a village that was moved to make space for an artificial lake and a dike. Some believe this construction was organized by the Roman government to sabotage the region’s inhabitants. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The Saint Catherine bell tower belonged to Curón, a village that was moved to make space for an artificial lake and a dike. Some believe this construction was organized by the Roman government to sabotage the region’s inhabitants. Photo: Bruny Nieves


The so-called Sun Mountain, for the many sunny days that bathe the region, among clouds. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The so-called Sun Mountain, for the many sunny days that bathe the region, among clouds. Photo: Bruny Nieves


Conscious Travel Practices:

1) Support small guest houses.

2) Know and respect the region’s history.

3) Sponsor the markets.

4)  Explore destinations using public transportation.


Outside view of the historical Bavaria Hotel in the city of Merano, made famous by Empress Sisi. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Outside view of the historical Bavaria Hotel in the city of Merano, made famous by Empress Sisi. Photo: Bruny Nieves



On the background, the mountain chain known as Dolomites and declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Reason enough for a second visit to the region. Photo: Bruny Nieves

On the background, the mountain chain known as Dolomites and declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Reason enough for a second visit to the region. Photo: Bruny Nieves



A typical side dish known as Knödel; like a meatball, but prepared with milk, egg, flour and, sometimes, speck (smoked bacon) or cheese. We tried several recipes and the one with bacon was our favorite! Here it is served with Goulash, a Hungarian recipe for braised meat.  Photo: Bruny Nieves

A typical side dish known as Knödel; like a meatball, but prepared with milk, egg, flour and, sometimes, speck (smoked bacon) or cheese. We tried several recipes and the one with bacon was our favorite! Here it is served with Goulash, a Hungarian recipe for braised meat.  Photo: Bruny Nieves